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Long Island Contractors' Association

Long Island Business News
- Two minutes with Mark Herbst

By David Winzelberg - Featured in Long Island Business News on August 17, 2007

The deadly bridge collapse on a Minneapolis interstate struck a nerve with Mark Herbst, who worries that a similar tragedy could happen here. A former five-term New York State assemblyman, Herbst also served as a planner for the state's Thruway Authority and is an expert on roads and safety. Currently, Herbst is vice president of the New York Roadway Improvement Coalition and a member of the Council of State Executives for the American Road and the Transportation Builders Association.

How many bridges and roadways on Long Island are really unsafe?
We don't have an exact figure, but in the New York metro region its about 55 percent. The two most significant are now under repair. They are and the Goose Creek Bridge on the Wantagh Parkway and the Roslyn viaduct on Route 25A.

What can be done to make them safer?
There has to be a greater investment in the infrastructure and maintenance, and a greater commitment toward inspections - and not just on roadways, but on all kinds of infrastructure.

Have municipalities ignored their infrastructures?
I think the problem has been the availability of money and the ability, because their budgets are so tight and they have staffing shortages and they're not able to do adequate inspections after a job. If a municipality puts out a road construction job, most of the time they have to bond it and it has to be planned in a long-range program. They do the most they can with a limited amount of dollars. The lack of inspections creates the potential for disreputable contractors that are skimming or just not doing an adequate job.

What's your beef with the federal Highway Dedicated Fund?
The money is distributed by the federal government to all 50 states and the states are the gatekeepers. So Albany makes the determination as to where the money goes. While (Long Island) in the past capital program received over 19 percent of the statewide funds, it's been reduced down to 8 percent. The average annual spending for infrastructure programs with capital money has dropped from $247 million to $224 million.

What does the quality of construction materials have to do with safety?
If you're not building according to the specifications put forward in the contract bids, there's always the potential that the structural material won't have its projected life. So a road paved with an insufficient composition of asphalt that's designed to last 50 years ... in reality only lasts 20. And if you're dealing with structures and faulty steel, I don't have to say how dangerous that can be.

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